Capt. Tammie Jo Shults, the San Antonio-area woman behind the controls of Southwest Flight 1380, is being hailed as hero for her safe landing of the plane after one of its engines exploded.
That blast broke a window, claiming one life and changing 148 others. One of those is Zachary Coleman of Cedar Hill, a college student who was flying from New York back home to surprise his family. They had no idea he was on the flight until he called them safely from the ground.
"I was on the side where the window was hit," he said.
When the engine blew, the plane leaned sharply and started dropping. It lost pressure and a passenger. But in the middle of it all, Coleman heard a strong voice from the Texan in the cockpit.
"She came over and she told us, 'Everyone calm down, I'm going to land the plane, we're going to be safe,'" said Coleman, quoting Capt. Shults.
It's the same calm and conviction the nation heard, as she notified the Air Traffic Control. Shults's friends in Boerne expect nothing less.
"It sounded just like her. Calm cool and collected. That's how she is at everything things don't really ruffle her," said Staci Thompson, her friend of twenty years.
She likely honed that skill trying to break glass ceilings. She's among the first female fighter pilots for the U.S. Navy, and of the first women to fly the F/A -18. Back then women couldn't fly combat missions, so she taught the men who could. She brought that experience to Southwest, where she is a veteran pilot with grit…and compassion. Passengers say after a harrowing landing, she came to check on them. Passengers shared pictures of her speaking with and even hugging them across social media, calling her a hero.
"She's very much so got a gentle heart that wants people to feel loved and feel important," said friend Rachel Russo.
Shults has now joined a club no pilot wants to be a part of, along side Sully Sullenberger, who landed safely in the Hudson after losing both engines in 2009. But notoriety's one thing. Saving lives is another, and the souls on board Flight 1380 can't thank Shults enough.
"We just got lucky, we had the right pilot for that event," said Coleman.
Capt. Shults lives with her husband, who is also a Navy veteran and Southwest pilot. The pair has two children.
Late Wednesday, Southwest shared this statement on behalf of Capitan Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor.
“As Captain and First Officer of the Crew of five who worked to serve our Customers aboard Flight 1380 yesterday, we all feel we were simply doing our jobs. Our hearts are heavy. On behalf of the entire Crew, we appreciate the outpouring of support from the public and our coworkers as we all reflect on one family’s profound loss. We joined our Company today in focused work and interviews with investigators. We are not conducting media interviews and we ask that the public and the media respect our focus.”